12 Strong
Adaptation of Best Seller Chronicles Exploits of Special Forces Unit Deployed to Afghanistan
  A few days after 9/11, President George W. Bush visited Ground Zero where he delivered his iconic Bullhorn Speech standing atop a pile of rubble. Rising to the occasion, he assured the rescue workers and the rest of America that those responsible for the senseless slaughter would soon be held accountable. 

  Less than a month later, the first contingent of soldiers was dispatched to Afghanistan. Their top secret operation, code named Task Force Dagger, called for them to be dropped off behind enemy lines where they would rendezvous with a ragtag local militia led by General Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban). Dostum was understandably-skeptical of the newly-forged, Northern Alliance’s expectations to topple the Taliban regime in just three weeks. 

  The American Special Forces unit, composed of a dozen elite soldiers, was led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth). He was not only confident that the mission would be successful, but made the bold guarantee that no one under his command would perish in battle. 

  Because of the rugged terrain, they would be forced to negotiate their way through the mountains on horseback, which also enabled them to blend in with the locals more easily. Whenever encountering the Taliban, they were invariably outnumbered and outgunned. However, according to plan, they were always able to improve their odds by calling for air support from B-52 bombers.

  Thus unfolds 12 Strong, a true tale of extraordinary heroism in the face of overwhelming odds. Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig (Exfil), the picture is based on Horse Soldiers, Doug Stanton’s best seller chronicling the declassified exploits of a brave band of brothers. 

  The action-oriented saga stars Chris Hemsworth and an impressive support ensemble that features Michael Shannon, William Fitchner, Michael Pena, Rob Riggle and Trevante Rhodes. Reminiscent of such John Wayne classics as The Longest Day (1962) and Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), this unapologetically patriotic war flick is a crowd-pleaser most likely to resonate with the flag-waving “God, mom and apple pie” demographic.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for violence and pervasive profanity
Running time: 130 minutes
Production Studios: Alcon Entertainment / Black Label Media / Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures

 

Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba
Reverential Biopic Chronicles Rise, Fall and Triumphant Return of Legendary South African Singer/Activist
  Zenzile Miriam Makeba had the misfortune of being born black in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1932, which relegated her to second-class citizenship. In fact, she spent the first six months of her life behind bars with her mother, a sangoma (witch doctor), sent to prison days just after her birth. 

  Luckily, her mom was also an amateur singer, and that was a gift Miriam inherited. She married at 17 and had a child a year later, but was soon abandoned by her abusive husband. So, she started singing professionally to support her young daughter. 

  After performing and recording with several different bands, she found a measure of fame as the lead singer of an all-girl group called The Skylarks. Then, while on tour out of the country in 1959, Miriam’s passport was revoked after the release in Italy of Come Back, Africa, a secretly-filmed, anti-apartheid docudrama in which she appeared. 

  Despite the ban, Miriam’s career would catch fire while in exile, with the help of such influential entertainers as Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. Soon, international audiences were appreciating her unique sound, an eclectic mix of jazz, pop and traditional African tunes. 

  But because of the continued civil strife back in her homeland, Miriam used her platform to criticize the South African government. In 1963, she even testified at the United Nations, imploring the organization to impose economic sanctions on the country for its imprisonment of attorney Nelson Mandela and thousands of other political activists lobbying for equality.

  However, Miriam would fall out of favor in 1968 after marrying Stokely Carmichael, the controversial leader of the Black Power Movement. For, she made many powerful enemies in the U.S. by virtue of that union. 

  After all, it was one thing to point out all the injustice in her native South Africa, but quite another to complain about the mistreatment of African Americans. Almost overnight, Miriam’s concerts were canceled and her records were pulled off the shelves, too. 

  Hounded by the FBI and her career ruined, she abandoned the States with Stokely for Guinea, but would have to wait for the fall of the Apartheid regime to be welcomed home with open arms by outlawed freedom fighter-turned-president, Nelson Mandela. A fitting tribute to a rare talent who dedicated her life to the liberation of oppressed people all over the world.

Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated 
Running time: 90 minutes
In English and French with subtitles
Production Studios: Starhaus Filmproduktion / Millennium Film / Marianna Films
Distributor: ArtMattan Productions

 

OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam’s Kapsules
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun 
For movies opening Jan. 26, 2018

 

BIG BUDGET FILMS

Hostiles (R for profanity and graphic violence) Panoramic Western, set in 1892, about a veteran cavalry Captain (Christian Bale) who reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) from a fort in New Mexico back to his tribe’s ancestral lands in Montana. Supporting cast includes Rosamund Pike, Adam Beach, Ben Foster and Timothee Chalamet. 

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (PG-13 for action, violence, profanity and mature themes) Epic finale of the sci-fi saga finds Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and company negotiating their way through a deadly labyrinth while on a dangerous mission to find a cure for a contagious disease. With Rosa Salazar, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Kaya Scodelario.

 

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS 

American Folk (PG for mild epithets and mature themes) Romance drama revolving around two strangers (Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth) who fall in love and make beautiful music together after being stranded in an airport on the West Coast in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. With David Fine, Bruce Beatty and Krisha Fairchild.

The Clapper (R for profanity and sexual references) Romantic comedy about an infomercial audience member (Ed Helms) whose sudden 15 minutes of fame ruins his relationship with the girl of his dreams (Amanda Seyfried). Cast includes Tracy Morgan, Adam Levine, Leah Remini and the late Alan Thicke. 

The Insult (R for profanity and violence) Beirut drama about a personal beef between a Lebanese Christian (Adel Karam) and a Palestinian (Kamel El Basha) that morphs into a media circus. With Camille Salameh, Rita Hayek and Talal Jurdi. (In Arabic with subtitles.)

Kickboxer: Retaliation (R for violence) Mixed Martial Arts sequel finds Kurt (Alain Moussi) kidnapped, sedated and flown back to Thailand where he is forced to face a 6′ 8″, 400 lb. strongman (Hafpor Julius Bjornsson) in a prizefight with a $2 million purse. Featuring Christopher Lambert, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mike Tyson.

Like Me (Unrated) Suspense thriller revolving around a reckless felon (Addison Timlin) who develops a huge following when she starts broadcasting her crime spree on social media. With Ian Nelson, Stuart Rudin and Larry Fessenden.

The Neighbor (R for profanity, sexuality, violence and drug use) Midlife crisis drama about a miserably-married homebody (William Fitchner) who falls for his new, next-door neighbor (Jessica McNamee) with an abusive husband (Michael Rosenbaum). With Jean Louisa Kelly, Colin Woodell and Erich Andersen. 

Please Stand By (PG-13 for brief profanity) Dakota Fanning stars in this character-driven dramedy about an autistic woman who runs away from her group home in San Francisco to enter her 500-page script in a Star Trek competition being staged in Hollywood. Support cast includes Toni Collette, Alice Eve and Marla Gibbs.

West of the Jordan River (Unrated) Middle East documentary examining the escalating tensions between displaced Palestinians and Jewish settlers in Israel’s occupied territories. (In English, Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles.)

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